Jude P. Morte / Ramon Sy | September 18, 2006 00:00
Carlike in the best senseWhen Subaru made its successful return last year, one of the brand's most awaited vehicles was its Forester compact crossover SUV. The reason for its awaited return was if the current model would have a better interior, better rear accommodations and retain the same horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and all wheel drive (AWD) as the 2006 Impreza WRX, but with less turbo lag and more horsepower.
In order to discern if the aforementioned sentence is true, this writer recently spent four days finding out the fine and the freaky about the Forester, the high end 2.5L XT in particular.
The fun within
The Forester XT totes a pleasing two tone interior, with black adorning the upper part (including the steering wheel) and tan covering the beltline downwards. The metallic center paneling covering the radio, the middle airconditioning (a/c) vents, the automatic transmission (a/t) stick and the a/c controls provide a nice contrast, and hidden within the said paneling is a unique vertically mounted cupholder. Forward view is excellent, the seats and the noticeably water-repellent seat fabric are very comfortable (especially when it comes to lumbar support), and the rotary seat lifter moves in huge increments to handle thick thighs and large bums. A large glass sunroof spans nearly half of the roofline, and is great for stargazing nights or getting out trapped stale air.
There are lots of small item storage areas in the Forester, with large front door pockets, a multi-functional center console, an overhead console, bar hangers and cupholders galore. The rearmost area swallows a balikbayan box plus three to four duffel bags, and the rear backrest can be folded flat to handle extra cargo. Unfortunately the rear roomers get just four cupholders, small door pockets and a single seatback pocket behind the front occupant.
Sound from the OE (original equipment) radio is good, but needs improvement in replicating bass tones. For those who frequently bring electrical items on trips, there are three (six-volt or 12-volt) outlets, one for each cabin section.
Outside the styling of the SUV is good but not great, but is remarkedly better than that of its predecessor. The low ground clearance (200mm), the large hoodscoop, the bigger seven-star logo in the grille and the 17-inch rims serve notice to all comers that a Subaru is in their line of sight.
Waking up the DOHC 16-valve 2.5L horizontally opposed and turbocharged engine brings about a subtle rumble and a violent shake that gives the feeling that you're holding back a beast itching to run. When you finally let go of the leash (via the gas pedal), the response is near instantaneous. Partial boost from the turbo kicks in early (2500-2750 rpm) and full boost comes at 4500-plus rpm. When the beast gets angry it can do marvels, such as reach 230kph one Sunday morning on the (Batangas) Star Tollway and upshift at its 7000rpm redline. The onus is that its power comes with a price; this writer notched 7.67 km/l on four days of normal mixed driving. But who cares about fuel consumption; the Forester is a rallycar disguised as an SUV.
Getting the Forester's Impreza WRX-derived engine power (227 hp, 320 NM of torque) to the wheels is Subaru's symmetrical AWD and a four-speed a/t (with Sportshift). Third and fourth gears are tall and it would help if an extra gear was installed to bridge the wide gap. The good news is that the Sportshift feature helps somewhat in getting into the powerband quickly (1900-plus rpm).
The symmetrical AWD and the low ground clearance (200mm) keep the SUV planted firmly on the ground during cornering, along with four wheel independent suspension that displays little body roll and a carlike (but really firm) ride. The handling and the steering are razor sharp, but the tires that came with the test unit (215/55 R17 Yokohama Geolandars) have little grip, with loud squeal at 65kph and plowing at 70-plus kph. Probably the tires on the Forester test unit must have come from a bad batch, considering the clawlike grip reputation of Yokohama rubber.
The Forester is no slouch when it comes to safety. Since its 1998 introduction, the Forester has racked up several safety accolades, not the least of which have come from the stringent US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The new Forester is no different, due to multiple airbags, a strengthened rear crossmember which increases the Forester's rigidity, front-seatbelt pre-tensioners, front seat active head restraints and an efficient and effective four wheel disc brake system with ABS.
With an engine, AWD and suspension derived directly from the Impreza WRX and interior/safety features rivaling executive sedans, the Forester XT is carlike in every sense. Now if this writer can only cough up P 1.65 million to get one…